Star Wars for Christmas
And so it came to pass, that during the magical season of winter wonderlands, the corporate entertainment industry said here ya go, consumers: a new movie in the old vintage way, to whisk you back to that time long time, in a galaxy far far away….
The sequel a generation in the making, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, was released to much delight throughout the land, during the height of this Christmas season, just a few days ago.
Yes, the whole Star Wars money machine of ‘merchandise-everything-in-sight’ is commercial consumerism gone wild. Yes, it's kinda gross from a certain point of view, but all that hawking of goods hangs on something real yet immaterial, and yes, I'll say it, spiritual. Myth.
Myth is not an economic force, it’s a spiritual one.
I dig that.
This blog post is about rescuing Star Wars from the garbage pile of pop culture. Because despite all the ridiculous swag and branded merch (Star Wars mac & cheese, socks, apples...really?!), there's actually something of value in there. Let's see what it is.
Star Wars: Mission, Meaning, and Magic
Why all the Star Wars hype? Because: Mythology.
(And by the way, what is Christmas? Mythology.)
Now let me lay out what I mean by the word mythology here, real quick. I’m talking about a practical, 'how-does-it-apply-to-my-life' sort of thing. Myth to me boils down to three things: mission, meaning, and magic. Myth offers a way for us to think about and to feel a sense of mission, meaning, and magic in life.
That's important, because our hearts need mission, meaning, and magic like our bodies need food, shelter, and clothing.
Religion Then and Now
Mission, meaning, and magic are what religion used to give people, and why people followed religion.
Religion, however, has lost its power, because religion takes itself too literally. It refuses to accept that it's a myth.
When it comes to religion, some of us just know too much about science, other cultures, and human fallibility to simply and quietly obey anymore when told to “have faith” or “trust” in the church, the priest, the Bible, etc. We have newer and deeper ways of understanding things now, so the old literal or traditional interpretations about stuff like the world being created in 7 days, burning bushes, and people flying into the air and going to heaven...well, it just can't fly anymore.
But the need for mission, meaning, and magic...that doesn't go away.
So where do we take those needs?
What Star Wars Has Over Religion
We want to be part of a grand mission, a worthy cause bigger than ourselves, by which we can test and prove our mettle.
We want to feel something beautiful in our lives; call it love, wonder, or magic.
And we want to feel we’re part of a meaningful world, with a meaningful role to play.
Star Wars gives us a myth. But what it has over religion is that it knows it's a myth, it's okay with that, and it doesn’t try to pretend its literal fact. (It also sells bobble heads and candy and crap, but that's what happens when you're ok with being a myth and you're Disney.)
Religion, on the other hand, takes itself extremely seriously. It claims to be the ultimate possessor of truth, the mouthpiece of God, the singular key to life! That’s some serious sense of self-importance. And that self-importance gets in the way; it becomes a distraction from the main point.
What's the main point?
Like any good myth, Star Wars presents ways to think about the human experience, y'know, things like personal responsibility, differing perspectives and points of view, making hard choices, having strength and keeping hope under difficult circumstances.
But contrary to the way some die-hard fans live, it's not the voice of God. Star Wars provides a kind of reassurance, comfort, courage, and even family, in the form of other fans. But it doesn’t claim to be the way to enlightenment, or to save your soul.
It's just a story. But of course, it's told in a very special way.
That’s why I think it has such a following. Star Wars does what religion used to do by offering a sense of mission, meaning, and magic, through myth. But even more palatable to the educated modern: it knows it’s a myth and doesn’t try to convince you it's anything more. Thanks for that, Star Wars.
That’s also why I think this latest installment, The Force Awakens, works for the fans who just want their old Star Wars back. No complex political intrigue, please, thank you. Just give me the well-worn, thrilling adventures of a young person who discovers the mission, meaning, and magic of a lifetime.
Give me a larger and deeper world to grow in, and fight for.
There has been legitimate criticism against The Force Awakens that points out that the movie is just the same story as the original from 1977. It’s just a mash-up of the old stuff. The Luke Skywalker character is Rey; the Obi Wan character is Han Solo; the Darth Vader character is Kylo Ren. Oh, and the original wise-cracking mercenary smuggler/gambler/scoundrel? Now played by Finn, the opportunistic ex-stormtrooper. The same story arc goes through its paces with the lowly, unlikely hero getting caught up in adventure surrounding a secret message stored in a droid, and discovering their mysterious powers along the way.
Sound familiar? It is. Of course it is.
Myth is exactly that: the same story, told over and over, using different backdrops but essentially, at its heart, always the same story. Why do we tell it over and over? Because, these stories, these myths, are how we engage with the need for mission, meaning, and magic in our lives. We need that triumvirate. We need mission, meaning, and magic. Our hearts require it for survival. Our spirits need it to feel fed, nourished, and strong.
Innovation? No, Thank You.
The same critics who say (correctly) that The Force Awakens is just mimicking the original also say that it’s not ground-breaking in any way. It doesn’t innovate, has no individuality, it doesn’t say or do anything new or different.
That critique in itself reveals and comes from the modern obsession with individualism, newness and differentness, just for the sake of being different.
It doesn’t care about being innovative or individualistic. It cares about speaking to our hunger for those three things: mission, meaning, and magic. The hunger for those things doesn’t change or go away just because it’s a new movie season.
Star Wars is just a movie, and it’s also now just an over-commercialized, over-promoted, grossly exploited franchise in the hands of corporate capitalism. The corporate capitalist machine has done everything it can to make Star Wars another heartless, automated, money making factory.
But they're too late.
For those who know Star Wars as myth, the words “A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…” have long since joined "Once upon a time" in the book of magic words that can cast the spell of hope in the universe of the heart.
The long ago and the far away-ness, the matter-of-fact otherworldliness of Star Wars is a secret language that speaks intimately of our near and present lives. It does this without speaking words. It does it by speaking the language of myth instead. Symbol, story, legend, and lore. Mission, Meaning, and Magic.
And...may the Force be with you.